Large #hydropower dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world — BBC

Click here to read the paper. Here’s the abstract:

Abstract

Hydropower has been the leading source of renewable energy across the world, accounting for up to 71% of this supply as of 2016. This capacity was built up in North America and Europe between 1920 and 1970 when thousands of dams were built. Big dams stopped being built in developed nations, because the best sites for dams were already developed and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable. Nowadays, more dams are being removed in North America and Europe than are being built. The hydropower industry moved to building dams in the developing world and since the 1970s, began to build even larger hydropower dams along the Mekong River Basin, the Amazon River Basin, and the Congo River Basin. The same problems are being repeated: disrupting river ecology, deforestation, losing aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, releasing substantial greenhouse gases, displacing thousands of people, and altering people’s livelihoods plus affecting the food systems, water quality, and agriculture near them. This paper studies the proliferation of large dams in developing countries and the importance of incorporating climate change into considerations of whether to build a dam along with some of the governance and compensation challenges. We also examine the overestimation of benefits and underestimation of costs along with changes that are needed to address the legitimate social and environmental concerns of people living in areas where dams are planned. Finally, we propose innovative solutions that can move hydropower toward sustainable practices together with solar, wind, and other renewable sources.

We need innovative sustainable solutions to meet energy demands, guarantee food security, and ensure water availability around the globe. Over the years, dams have been used for land management and flood control; to store water for irrigation and agriculture; to provide recreation and navigation, and to address management of aquatic resources. There are over 82,000 large dams in the United States alone. In addition, over 2 million small low-head dams fragment US rivers, and their cumulative impacts are largely unknown, since they have escaped careful environmental assessment.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the first hydroturbines were invented to power a theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then, to power streetlights in Niagara Falls, New York. Alternating current then made possible the first hydropower plant at Redlands Power Plant, California in 1893. Beginning in the 1920s, the US Army Core of Engineers began to build hydropower plants. The Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 developed hydropower in the Tennessee River with the clearly stated goal of promoting rural electrification, later widely imitated throughout the country—the most notable being the Hoover Dam in 1937. The New Deal gave an enormous boost to hydropower construction, tripling output in 20 years until it accounted for 40% of electrical use in the United States. Hydropower dams were an important part of North American and European energy development.

Starting in the late 1960s, big dams stopped being built in developed nations, because the best sites for dams were already developed, the costs became too high, and most importantly, growing environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable. Since then, the contribution of hydropower to the United States’ electrical supply has steadily declined to 6.1% of energy consumption, and other energy sources, such as nuclear, gas, coal, solar, and wind, began to replace it. Dam removal rather than construction has become the norm in North America and Europe, because many that were built before 1950 are at the end of their useful lives, they would be too costly to repair, many no longer serve their initial purpose, and their social and environmental negative externalities became unacceptable. European countries with favorable topography and rain patterns, such as France and Switzerland, continue to have hydropower as an important part of their energy mix through technological innovations at existing dams. In contrast, 3,450 dams have been removed to date in Sweden, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and France (https://www.damremoval.eu). Hundreds of dams were removed in the United States (546 from 2006 to 2014) and Europe at enormous financial cost. This situation contrasts with what is happening in developing countries.

Developing countries, where millions of people are still not connected to the electric grid, have been ramping up hydroelectric dam construction for decades. These often involve megaprojects, which repeat the problems identified with big dams built in the past by the United States and European nations: disrupting river ecology, causing substantial deforestation, generating loss of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases, displacing thousands of people, and affecting the food systems, water quality, and agriculture near them. The sustainability of these undertakings is commonly insufficiently scrutinized by those promoting them. The priority in large dam construction is to generate energy to serve growing industries and urban populations—these two things often overwhelm socioeconomic and environmental considerations. Left behind are local communities saddled with socioenvironmental damages and loss of livelihoods. Often, they do not even gain access to electricity, because they are not provided the power from the large dams, and they are not sufficiently compensated for their disrupted lives. All countries need renewable energy, and hydropower should be part of this portfolio. However, there is a need to find sustainable and innovative solutions that combine hydropower development with other energy sources, thus providing benefits that will outweigh, reduce, or even eliminate the negative environmental, behavioral, cultural, and socioeconomic externalities resulting from large dams.

Here, we review the socioeconomic and environmental situation in several major river basins where dams are being built. We examine the proliferation of large dams in developing countries, the lack of attention to climate change in the decision of whether to build a dam, some of the governance and compensation challenges, and the overestimation of benefits and underestimation of costs. We also identify changes that are needed to address the legitimate social and environmental concerns of people living in areas where dams are planned and propose innovative solutions to meet the food, water, and energy needs of citizens in those regions. These solutions have relevance worldwide, as hydropower can also contribute to meeting goals of reducing fossil fuel emissions and building sustainable communities with diversified energy sources.

From the BBC (Matt McGrath):

A new study says that many large-scale hydropower projects in Europe and the US have been disastrous for the environment.

Dozens of these dams are being removed every year, with many considered dangerous and uneconomic.

But the authors fear that the unsustainable nature of these projects has not been recognised in the developing world.

Thousands of new dams are now being planned for rivers in Africa and Asia.

Hydropower is the source of 71% of renewable energy throughout the world and has played a major role in the development of many countries.

But researchers say the building of dams in Europe and the US reached a peak in the 1960s and has been in decline since then, with more now being dismantled than installed. Hydropower only supplies approximately 6% of US electricity.

Dams are now being removed at a rate of more than one a week on both sides of the Atlantic.
The problem, say the authors of this new paper, is that governments were blindsided by the prospect of cheap electricity without taking into account the full environmental and social costs of these installations.

More than 90% of dams built since the 1930s were more expensive than anticipated. They have damaged river ecology, displaced millions of people and have contributed to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases from the decomposition of flooded lands and forests.

Elwha River. By Elwhajeff at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9740555

“They make a rosy picture of the benefits, which are not fulfilled and the costs are ignored and passed on to society much later,” lead author Prof Emilio Moran, from Michigan State University, told BBC News.

His report cites the example of two dams on the Madeira river in Brazil, which were finished only five years ago, and are predicted to produce only a fraction of the power expected because of climate change.

In the developing world, an estimated 3,700 dams, large and small, are now in various stages of development.

The authors say their big worry is that many of the bigger projects will do irreparable damage to the major rivers on which they are likely to be built.

On the Congo river, the Grand Inga project is expected to produce more than a third of the total electricity currently being generated in Africa.

However, the new study points out that the main goal for the $80bn installation will be to provide electricity to industry.

“Over 90% of the energy from this project is going to go to South Africa for mining and the people in the Congo will not get that power,” said Prof Moran.

“The people that I study in Brazil, the power line goes over their heads and goes 4,000km from the area and none of the energy is being given to them locally.”

Reservoir levels in Lake Mead continue to decline and were down to 37 percent of capacity recently. December 2015 photo/Allen Best

“The nice goal of rural electrification has become completely subverted by large-scale interests who are pushing this technology, and governments are open to being convinced by them that this is the way to go.”

The report points our that the large installations on these great rivers will destroy food sources, with 60 million people who live off the fisheries along the Mekong likely to be impacted with potential loss of livelihoods greater than $2bn. The authors also believe that dams will destroy thousands of species in these biodiversity hotspots.
In Brazil, which gets 67% of its electricity from hydropower, the response to reduced water capacity because of climate change is to build more dams.

With the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, a temporary halt to building new hydro projects is likely to be overturned. Plans for 60 new dams are already in place.

The authors say that with huge pressure on countries to press ahead with renewable energy developments, a mix of energy sources including hydro is the most sustainable approach.

“Large hydropower doesn’t have a future, that is our blunt conclusion,” said Prof Moran.

“To keep hydropower as part of the mix in the 21st Century we should combine multiple sources of renewable energy,” said Prof Moran.

“There should be more investment in solar, wind and biomass, and hydro when appropriate – as long as we hold them to rigorous standards where the costs and benefits are truly transparent.”

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gov. Hickenlooper joins western governors in continued commitment to uphold standards of the Clean Air and Water Acts

Mount Rainier and Seattle Skyline July 22 2017.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today joined governors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in signing a letter committing to upholding the standards set forth in the Clean Air and Water Acts, despite changes to federal standards in Washington D.C.

“We will not run from our responsibility to protect and improve clean air and water for future generations,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We know it will take collaboration just like this to make it happen. Changes at the federal level will not distract from our goals.”

Colorado continues efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined by the state’s Colorado Climate Plan. Last week Colorado submitted comments pushing back on the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken federal auto standards. State agencies continue work on finalizing a low emissions vehicle plan by the end of the year.

In their letter, the governors wrote “Each of our states has a unique administrative and regulatory structure established to protect clean air and clean water, but we share a commitment to science-based standards that protect human health and the environment. As governors, we pledge to be diligent environmental stewards of our natural resources to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the bounty of clean air, clean water and the highest quality of life.”

View the full letter here.

How air pollution is destroying our health — the World Health Organization @WHO

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

As the world gets hotter and more crowded, our engines continue to pump out dirty emissions, and half the world has no access to clean fuels or technologies (e.g. stoves, lamps), the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted: nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year. The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.

Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.

From The Guardian (Damian Carrington and Matthew Taylor):

Simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more, but ‘a smog of complacency pervades the planet’, says Dr Tedros Adhanom

Air pollution is the “new tobacco”, the head of the World Health Organization has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.

Over 90% of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.

“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”

Funding Available for Agricultural Hydropower Projects — #Colorado Department of Agriculture

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture:

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are seeking applicants for on-farm agricultural hydropower projects. The total amount of available assistance for this round is $1,200,000. The funding is available to Colorado agricultural irrigators with appropriate hydropower resources.

“This program gives producers a way to cut their costs and use their resources efficiently. It’s about water quantity, water quality, and energy resources,” said Sam Anderson, CDA’s Energy Specialist, “We focus on helping farmers upgrade outdated and labor-intensive flood-irrigation systems to more efficient pressurized-irrigation systems using hydropower, or retrofit existing sprinkler systems with a hydropower component.”

The funding is part of the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Within RCPP, the Colorado irrigation hydropower program provides funding to agricultural producers to help them add hydropower to new or existing irrigation systems.

For example, past projects have helped farmers use irrigation water to generate electricity, offsetting some of the cost of power for those farms. Other projects have allowed farmers to run large center-pivot sprinkler systems on hydro-mechanical power without the need for any electricity.

The overall hydro program is funded and assisted by 14 agencies and groups, collectively contributing $3 million to the effort for project funding and technical assistance for Colorado agricultural producers.

CDA is currently accepting applications for the next round of RCPP irrigation hydro projects. The application deadline is October 19, 2018. Applicants must be eligible to receive funding from the NRCS EQIP program. For more information and to submit an application, visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s ACRE3 hydropower website: http://www.colorado.gov/agconservation/hydro-navigation-guide or contact Sam Anderson at 303-869-9044 or CDA_hydro@state.co.us.

Excitement builds about changes accelerating in energy systems — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In an old school gymnasium in Paonia that one speaker commented looked like it had been constructed during the Great Depression, 120 people gathered last week to sort out the future of energy in the 21st century.

The town in west-central Colorado is surrounded by peach and apple orchards, peaks of the West Elk Mountains looming in the background. It’s not really a tourist town, as witnessed by the fact that there’s just one motel.

Paonia. Photo credit: Allen Best

Paonia used to be a coal town. The West Elk Mine still operates just a few miles away, but the miners have been laid off in droves as giant central-station coal-fired coal plants get shut down in favor of cheaper natural gas but also renewables in more dispersed locations. In 2012, nearly 1,000 people had been employed in the local mines. By 2017, the employment had fallen to just 220.

Many key figures in Paonia and other local communities want to be at the front of that shift, not at the dirty backend. Among them is John Gavan, who semi-retired to the Paonia area after a career in technology. A member of the board of directors for the local electrical provider, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, Gavan organized the conference, which is called Engage.

“We have an energy legacy, because of coal. But we now we are transitioning to a new distributed and renewable model,” he said in an interview afterwards. “We want to be sure we are economically engaged.”

Gavan believes that Delta-Montrose is one of the most aggressive electrical co-operatives in the country. A decade ago it began developing electricity using the fast-flowing waters of an agricultural canal.

Elsewhere in Colorado, a utility drew national attention last year when it announced it was planning to close two coal plants and replace the lost generation with primarily wind and solar with some battery storage. Xcel Energy said it could do this and save money for ratepayers and investors. The proposal was approved earlier this month by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

One coal mine remains open in the North Fork Valley. Photo/Allen Best

Colorado is particularly blessed with a diversity of renewable resources, but the same declining prices have roiled the electrical sector across North America.

Tom Plant, the keynote speaker at Engage, painted a picture of changes being driven from the grassroots. “Congress last year introduced how many energy bills?” he asked rhetorically. None, he answered. But legislators around the country introduced 3,433 bills.

Plant, who is with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy, described the “mainstreaming of renewables.” Wind prices have declined by 67 percent in the last eight years and solar 86 percent. “This changes the economics of the entire marketplace.”

As a state legislator in 2000, Plant introduced a bill proposing a renewable portfolio standard. It got little support. So he did it again. Again, other legislators batted the idea down.

Then, in 2004 voters, bypassed the legislator, requiring Xcel to achieve 10 percent renewable generation. Xcel, which had opposed the mandate, then got to work, meeting its goals years ahead of its deadline. It then met the next, steeper renewables portfolio. It’s now at 30 percent renewables and, with the changes recently approved, by late 2025 expects to hit 55 percent renewables.

“That’s an incredible shift in such a short amount of time,” said Plant of this and other changes. Electricity, he said, has decreased 17 percent in price during the 21st century even as there has been a shift to natural gas and now to renewables.

Tom Plant via the Center for the New Energy Economy.

Plant also took a few shots at Tri-State, the wholesale supplier for several of the mountain towns, including Durango, Crested Butte, and Paonia, too. “They have the highest carbon intensity of any power provider in the country,” Plant said.

A recent report conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that Tri-State could close its coal mines and still save money for members in the long run. See story.

Tri-State, for its part, points out that 30 percent of its portfolio is renewables, same as Xcel Energy now. In addition, Xcel is at 44 percent coal powered in Colorado. However, Tri-State benefits from hydroelectricity from federal dams, something not available to the investor-owned Xcel. In addition to that difference, there’s also the difference in the pace of the shift. Tri-State has added renewables, but at a far slower pace than Xcel.

Another way that utilities will add more renewables is if the power can be moved around the country better to match supplies with demands. Hence the wind of the Great Plains could be paired with the sunshine of California and the desert Southwest in places like Park City and Sun Valley. But there are roughly eight markets in the Western states currently, too small to effectively integrate renewables to maximum efficient. Ultimately, said Plant, it will happen.

Plant said that the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan—which President Donald Trump has set out to dismantle—was intended to bring everybody altogether to talk about stuff like energy markets.

“But without that federal push, the question is where will the push come from?” he said. The utilities haven’t really stepped up, at least to the level that Plant and others would like, “so the question is what will cause the utilities to step up?”

Gavan, the conference organizer, compares what is happening now in energy to the giant changes in telecommunications that began in the 1980s.

At the time, AT&T had a monopoly and, with its “baby bells” such as Mountain Bell in Colorado, resisted innovation. Phone calls were also extremely expensive. In the late 1970s, it costs 30 cents a minute to talk to somebody just 5 or 10 miles away.

For example, Colorado’s Grand County had six different prefixes, each one a long-distance call from the next. Winter Park was a long distance call from Granby, and Granby a long distance call from Grand Lake—at 30 cents a minute.

“AT&T acted exactly as Tri-State is acting today: protective, anticompetitive and punitive,” said Gavan. “That’s exactly the wrong game plan.”

The telephone monopoly, he said, had few services available and they were very expensive. Innovators foresaw many possibilities: advanced networking services, voice mail, and then exotic call-handling services of value to businesses.

Gavan was among the challengers of AT&T. In his career he was IT director for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington D.C. For 18 yeas, he was system engineer and IT director of MCI Telecommunications and later WorldCommunications after its acquisition of MCI. He owns seven patents associated with new technology.

Looking back to the 1980s, he sees many parallels between telecommunications giant AT&T and some of the big utilities of today.

“AT&T tried to throw up roadblock after roadblock after roadblock to slow the change in the telephone business model, and in the process they wound up shorting themselves. The same thing is happening here.”

Much of the conference was devoted to discussions about what those futures might look like. Nobody tried to argue that anything short of massive changes were afoot.

To see the PowerPoints presented at the conference by Plant and others, go to the Engage Delta County website.

The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Pumped storage hydro electric.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

USE MEAD AS A BATTERY?

A proposal to use Lake Mead to store energy by pumping water into it from downstream using solar power and then releasing the water through the dam’s hydropower plant to meet peak energy demands has generated excitement and controversy. This Nevada Independent article sums up the potential and the complications of implementing such a plan.

Photo via CorbittsNationalParks.co

Boulder inks deal to sell hydroelectric power to Tri-State

Small hydroelectric via City of Boulder.

From BizWest (Jensen Werley):

The city of Boulder signed a contract with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for the sale of hydroelectric power generated at five of the city’s eight hydroelectric plants.

The deal is a 10-year agreement with an option to renew for another five years. It’s expected to generate about $500,000 per year in revenue, which will offset water utility capital improvements and operating costs that would otherwise be paid through higher water rates for customers.

The city had previously sold hydroelectric power to Tri-State from the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric plant. This agreement renews the contract for Boulder Canyon and adds four facilities: the Kohler, Maxwell, Orodell and Sunshine plants…

Hydroelectric generation harnesses the energy generated during the downhill trip from water sources to the water distribution system. Boulder’s hydro program consists of eight plants that generate about 37 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power 4,600 households and displace 20,400 tons of coal.